He’s been labeled inept, a disgrace, a coward and calls have been made for him to never ref at international level again. Even World Rugby has hung him out to dry under the weight of Twitter posts.
But while the final blame must lay at the hands of Craig Joubert for a truly awful call that cost Scotland a trip to the Rugby World Cup semi-finals, at least a portion of the fervent internet rage should be directed at some of the Australian players.
Yes, that’s right, the Australian players.
Before the World Cup started, a directive was sent out by World Rugby to the refs to clamp down on players simulating infringements or appealing for penalties that were not penalties.
The directive was perhaps less of a message to refs and more of message to players that trying to fool refs or gain an advantage was a tactic best left for the round-ball code, and that this type of coercion was against the spirit of the game.
For the most part, the directive seems to have worked – the only instance of it we have seen was when Nigel Owens admonished Stuart Hogg for what looked like a clear and obvious dive against South Africa. Although no punishment was given, the embarrassment of being called out like that was likely far more effective than getting a yellow card. Hogg’s highland freckles burst out faster than Joubert running from the field after the quarter-final.
Nigel Owens showed in a couple of sentences why he is the best in the world and why Joubert is still a pretender. The elder Welshman managed to shut down an act of bad sportsmanship with a couple of sharp words, while Joubert totally gave into it.
And this is where we go back to the Australian players.
It was clear and obvious that Nick Phipps had played at the ball, and in so doing had put Jon Welsh back in an onside position. Phipps admitted as much himself after the game.
During the play, there is a slight delay before Welsh gets the ball where Joubert has his hand in the knock-on advantage position, indicating that he has seen the play correctly; however as soon as Welsh collects the ball and drops to the ground, three Australian players – Kane Douglas, Scott Fardy and Phipps himself – aggressively appeal to the ref for a penalty.
Bullocking loose-forward Fardy does his best impression of a fast bowler and pulls out an appeal that wouldn’t be out of place at Lord’s. Guess what happens? Joubert’s arm Viagra kicks in.
First and foremost, Joubert deserves blame for capitulating so easily – he completely neglected his objective decision-making process under the coercion of the Australian players and the pressure of a big match. However, under the new directives, the Australian players could have also been penalised for undue appealing.
Phipps claimed that he was intentionally going for the ball, so he knew it wasn’t a penalty and as such, was in direct contravention of that directive.
Now, I’m not saying that the Australians are bad sportsmen – players from every team in the world would have appealed for that penalty – but the Australian players did appeal, strongly at that, and at least one of them knew it wasn’t a penalty.
If World Rugby sets a directive to stop players influencing refs, then why not follow through?
At the end of the day, Australia are going to the semis and Scotland are going home, but if World Rugby wants less controversial moments, they need to either nurture stronger-minded refs or crackdown on the players trying to influence them.